Tolik and Sergey

While in Russia last year, many orphan graduates at the Dachas and Ministry Centers I visited were kind enough to sit down and share their stories of growing up in the orphanages and their lives since with me, a complete stranger. This month I want to share the stories from these grads--whom I now consider my good friends—that I found to be especially inspiring. This is the story of Tolick and Sergey (both 19), two friends I met while staying at the Vladamir Dacha. Their stories begin in separate places but intertwine along the way, thanks in part to the Dacha, which is why I want to tell them both together.

Sergey first entered the orphanage system as an infant when his mother lost parental rights. According to Sergey, his mother had become an alcoholic, and the state decided to take him away to place him in an orphanage. Sergey has never met nor heard from his father. Though he spent time in another orphanage as an infant, the earliest Sergey can remember is spending a year at an orphanage in the town of Suzdal when he was five-years-old. He then moved to an orphanage in Lukhonovo where he would stay for nine years before graduating.

Sergey was somewhat reserved about his time in the orphanage, preferring to talk mostly about his experiences traveling around the Vladimir region to perform with a drama group from his orphanage, and how he loved to learn poems by heart, though he no longer remembers any of the poems he learned.

Sergey at the Vladimir Dacha.

When asked if he had many conflicts with other kids in the orphanage, the quiet, laid back Sergey just laughed. “I don't like to have conflicts, other kids did, but not me,” he replied, adding that he had many acquaintances but few real friends at the Lukhonovo orphanage. Sergey wrote letters to his mother for a time while in the orphanage, though he says she never came to visit him. The last letter he received from his mother came in 2009, and Sergey does not know where she is now. “If she wants to find me, then she'll find me,” he said.

Like most orphans, Sergey came face to face with one of his greatest worries several years ago as he prepared to graduate from the orphanage and stared at an unknown future. Sergey moved on to a secondary school, where would meet his friend Tolik.

Anotoloi (Tolik) was born in a small town in the Valdimir region. Tolik spent most of his childhood with both his mother and father, whom he described as both being alcoholics, struggling to survive. Tolik struggles with a mental disability, and he described much of his childhood as spent begging to help his family survive. He says had no hobbies or friends growing up, instead having to dedicate his time to begging for money in places such as churches and subways. Tolik described often begging on trains at the command of his mother, who would then use the money to buy Vodka. He often would make a large about of money begging which became a great temptation for Tolik to continue begging rather than pursue school or work.

Tolik lived in a family house he described as being dilapidated and barely livable. With no

Tolik at the Vladimir Dacha

electricity or water he was eventually taken from the conditions and moved to an orphanage at the age of 16, where he would spend the next two years. In an orphanage with 53 kids, Tolik described constantly being bullied and hit by other kids, and said he was unable to make any friends in his two years there. Hardly a day passed in which he did not try to run away from the orphanage. After leaving the orphanage, Tolik found his first friend in Sergey, who would help lead him to the Vladamir Dacha. It was there Tolik found good friends and felt truly happy for the first time.

I will continue Tolik and Sergey's story at the Vladamir Dacha in next week's post.